Are we about to finally see a changing of the guard at wide receiver?
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said Wednesday rookie second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will have an expanded role on offense starting Sunday in Miami.
JJAW’s snaps would presumably come at the expense of Mack Hollins, who got 374 snaps the first nine games of the season but caught only 10 passes for 125 yards. He hasn’t caught a pass since Week 4, despite averaging 28 snaps per game during that span.
“That’s kind of been our plan kind of moving forward,” Pederson said. “J.J.’s kind of the guy now. He’s done some nice things the last couple games, he’s gaining a little more confidence in that. Nelly (Nelson Agholor) can obviously play over there and then bringing Greg (Ward) up obviously gives us some flexibility in the slot. So J.J. and Mack kind of fill that spot and really kind of back up a couple spots.”
Hollins’ snaps were reduced drastically the last two weeks in favor of Jordan Matthews, who started the last two games outside. During losses to the Patriots and Seahawks, Hollins played only 16 of 151 snaps on offense while Matthews got 137.
But the Eagles released Matthews on Monday, opting to keep Ward on the 53-man roster instead.
More on Ward in a minute.
Pederson said Alshon Jeffery and Agholor are expected back Sunday for the Dolphins. Jeffery missed the last two games with an ankle injury and Agholor missed last week’s game with a knee.
But even with them returning, if Hollins’ playing time remains low, there will be snaps for Arcega-Whiteside.
It sounds like Jeffery and Arcega-Whiteside will start outside, with Agholor in the slot.
JJAW has shown flashes the last two weeks, with a 29-yard reception against the Patriots and a 30-yarder against the Seahawks.
That made him the first Eagles rookie receiver with a 25-yard catch in consecutive games since Matthews had a 26-yarder against the Redskins and a 44-yarder against the Giants late in the 2014 season.
But overall he has just 5-for-86 so far.
Why does Pederson think JJAW is ready for a bigger role?
“I just think what I’ve seen in practice, how he’s taken his coaching from classroom to the practice field, some of the things he did in the game last week,” Pederson said. “Even though the ball didn’t necessarily maybe go his direction, just how he was able to run routes, some of the things he did that way, blocking, things of that nature. Look, it’s where we are in our season and these guys were drafted for a reason and now we’ve got to get them to play and play well.”
As for Ward, Pederson said he’ll have a larger role coming off his six-catch game Sunday in what was essentially his first NFL game playing on offense.
Ward was on the practice squad in 2017 and was here in training camp last year before leading the AAF in receiving while playing for the San Antonio Commanders. He spent most of this year back on the practice squad before getting promoted last week.
“He’s earned it,” Pederson said of the former Houston quarterback. “He deserves it by the way he’s practiced. He’ll have a role.”
All of this raises the question why Ward languished on the practice squad for all but one game this year — he was active against the Lions but got only two snaps on offense — while Hollins failed to produce and Matthews was brought in for an unsuccessful third stint here.
“Sometimes it’s complicated with the roster,” Pederson said. “We felt like we were on track to maybe getting him up a couple weeks ago, but then we have an injury in the secondary and you’ve got to pull a guy up there. Or in our case, we had a couple receivers go down and (signed) Jordan Matthews. … It’s a little big of a juggling act.”
Ward picked up three first downs with his six catches against the Seahawks Sunday.
He’s mainly a slot, so whatever action he gets presumably would come with Agholor moving outside.
“We’ve been real comfortable and confident with Greg all year,” Pederson said. “He’s earned it, he deserves this opportunity. But the timing earlier in the year just wasn’t right for us to make that move.”
When it comes to the Eagles' receiving corps, any change is definitely a positive.
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